Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
Far be it for me to complain when an anime or manga gets its rights obtained by a studio announcing a film adaptation. I accept almost any number of these announcements largely based on overall curiousness over caution – I’m a fan of anime, but I don’t have a waifu and I don’t fall to far into emtropy with geek discussions. I simply enjoy anime for what it is and if the films are good, then..well… good.
Then, the last ten years happened and my awareness expanded when a flood of ballyhoo began streaming for years and years over fandom weariness regarding Hollywood adaptations of anything, be it games, comics or even manga, and that’s still the case. Whitewashing is one cog that keeps this engine running, and by comparison, however, it’s an even more curious instance in Asian territories where Asians comprise of local entertainment figures on a regular basis compared to foreigners, and so the worry is much less than in America.
It’s…interesting if not slighty stomach-churning, that a film like Fullmetal Alchemist can supposedly set itself in the fictional world of Amestris as illustrated in Arakawa Hiromu’s 2001 shonen manga and still get away with presenting its cast as a bunch of Europeans who can seemingly speak Japanese while having some seriously white names. That’s also not to suggest the film’s director, Sori Fumihiko, didn’t do a pretty impressive job trying to craft a whole two hour movie from a 27-volume manga that turned over two whole animated shows totaling more than 100 episodes.
Indeed, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the animes and I haven’t gotten back to them for reference before seeing this film, although there are several things I do remember enough to compare and contrast. And assuredly, Sori did make several sacrifices and changes – like Envy’s lack of fighting prowess and presence of King Bradley – while keeping many of the things that make Fullmetal Alchemist as definitive as it is – the originating and concurrent story elements that introduce the Resembool-born Elric brothers and childhood friend, Winry, and character favorites like Mustang, Hughes, Hawkeye and Ross, as well as the egregious turning point from military scientist Shou Tucker’s chimera experiments.
Of course, you also get near-infallible incarnations of the opening green hills where the Elrics’ grow up, a riveting chase sequence in which our hero Alchemist siblings, Ed and Alphonse race to catch a maniacal priest using a philosopher’s stone to wreak havoc unto the idyllic town of Reole and a number of other things that Sori uses to not only sprawling narrative to life, but condense it in something of a balanced way.
Most of the actors do a decent job on honing in their characters. Most notable among the lot in this regard is Fujioka Dean who plays a military Colonel whose fire Alchemy is the end-all-be-all to almost any situation while Yamada Ryosuke, starring as Edward Elric, balances acting with real talent next to a CG character designated as the animated armor in which the soul of his brother, Alphonse, resides. Hongo Kanata and Uchiyama Shinji are the supporting lot for Matsuyuki Yuko in the role of Lust, leading the trio of otherworldly demons known as Homunculi throughout Amestris as they advance Genreral Hakuro’s endgame.
More could have been done to probably make this a fast-perfect adaptation, but it’s fair to say that plenty of effort went into harnessing as much out of this IP for a live-action adaptation as Sori could. There’s no deying. That said, I can’t say I’m not bothered that there isn’t a white cast in this movie, or even a mostly caucasian roster conducive to the film’s European setting, but I can certainly appreciate what Sori tries here, aided no less by Arakawa’s own screenplay. I’m even inclined to see what a sequel would entail given how it all plays out; The budding Armstrong sibs could use an introduction as well as Bradley’s son, Pride, Xing family Ling Yao and his tough-as-nails ninja troupe, and that of Izumi Curtis, the authoritative mentor who taught the Elrics’ how to survive and fight for their upbringing. All that and so much more…
This, of course, is only possible if you can suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy a cast of Europeans speaking and addressing each other in Japanese. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself as conflicted as I am while you sit in bittersweet silence and watch as this movie gets more than the praise it deserves for at least being the visual treat it needed to be for its mass appeal. Besides, with Hollywood’s own notorious applications of Asian IP treatments, in this regard, I’d say Yellowface here is the least of our worries.